In her 1984 book Māori Sovereignty, the feminist activist Donna Awatere presented her readers with a stark choice. They could follow either the ‘British way or the Māori way.’ To take the first path, she suggested, meant living inauthentically, denying a true, Indigenous, way of inhabiting the South Pacific archipelago of ‘New Zealand’. Yet following the second path was complex and fraught for a range of constituencies, Māori and non-Māori. Drawing on J.G.A. Pocock’s notion of paradigmatic historical consciousnesses, in this talk I examine how ‘revolutionary’ Māori intellectuals and settler historians––maintaining ‘tangential’ identities––grappled with writing new histories of place that would indigenise their societies at the end of empire. Those histories, which often invoked spiritual attachments, quickly became the subject of criticism. Fractious cultural politics provoked arguments for the ‘decolonising’ of history-making as a practice. This remains an unresolved and sometimes bitter debate that brings into question whether we can assume a shared concept of history.
Miranda Johnson is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Otago. A historian of colonialism and decolonization, focusing on issues of settler identity, race, indigeneity, citizenship, and the politics of writing history, her research and teaching focuses on Anglophone settler societies of the South Pacific and North America.
Her first book, The Land is Our History: Indigeneity, Law and the Settler State (Oxford University Press, 2016) examined the wide-ranging effects of legal claims of Indigenous peoples in the settler states of New Zealand, Australia, and Canada in the late twentieth century. It won the W. K. Hancock Prize in 2018 from the Australian Historical Association.
Her articles and essays have appeared in a wide range of outlets, including American Historical Review, Postcolonial Studies, Public Culture, and Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. She has held positions at the University of Sydney, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Michigan.